The True Value of Music

If you ask the UK government, ‘what is the true value of music?’ They couldn’t give you much of an answer. There are weaknesses, which DCMS acknowledge, in the Gross Value Added (GVA), export and employment metrics that ONS ascribe to the music industry.

Measuring Music, an annual study that I lead for UK Music, seeks to make up for these lacunae in the government’s knowledge.

Over three years of reporting, they have consistently been able to cast a light on an industry growing faster, while being proportionately much richer in exports, than the UK economy, with its sluggish growth and yawning current account deficit (the difference between UK exports and imports).

There is a plethora of business innovation stories behind this success: the vibrancy of the UK live market; the growth of streaming; the ability of UK writers to draw in revenues from makers of TV, film and computer games; and much more besides.

What all of this success depends upon, however, is the enduring appeal of music. In America, according to Nielsen data, 93% of the population listen to music, 23% of all weekly time spent listening to music occurs in cars, 16% while working (home or office), 15% accompanies chores at home, and 13% occurs when doing other activities alone (video games, reading, surfing the web).

Music is everywhere. It accompanies old activities, like reading, and much newer ones, such as web surfing. It is perhaps deceptively pervasive in how interwoven with our lives it is.

There are two points about the value of music that I take from this. First, if people didn’t value music, they wouldn’t welcome it into so many different parts of their lives. The amount of time that people spend listening to music is one measure of its value. Second, to convert this time value into business success, it needs to be monetised in one way or another.

This conversion is the overarching task of the industry. One trend that increasingly feeds in to this is the value that music listeners place on the distinctive and particular characteristics of localities. It is now pointless, for example, doing a generic music festival by numbers. It needs to be a festival imbued with local flavour to really prosper.

UK Music’s research increasingly reflects this. The universities that we are working with through the Music Academic Partnership (MAP) are often most interested in researching what is happening on their doorstep. Whether that is the live music census on Bristol published with the University of Buckingham earlier this year, or the research into Brighton as a ‘music city’ that we hope to publish with Brighton BIMM later this year.

We can think about value in a variety of ways but whichever way we look at it; music has great value.